Jewish World Review Nov 21, 2011 / 24 Mar-Cheshvan, 5772
There's good reason why mastering a subject can still leave you enslaved
By Jack Kelly
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | The very left-wing Nation magazine is often hilarious, though rarely intentionally so. In the Nov. 21 issue, executive editor Richard Kim paints a sympathetic portrait of Joe Therrien, who quit his job and took out $35,000 in student loans to get a master's degree "in his passion -- puppetry."
Now Mr. Therrien, "because puppeteers aren't exactly in high demand," can't return to his old job as a grade-school drama teacher because of budget cutbacks.
"Like a lot of the young protesters who have flocked to Occupy Wall Street, Joe had thought that hard work and education could bring, if not class mobility, at least a measure of security," Mr. Kim wrote.
In his expectations and in his disappointment, Mr. Therrien has lots of company. Few students major in subjects which will do them much good. More major in the visual and performing arts than in engineering.
Colleges responded to the flood of money from federally guaranteed student loans by "adding courses and programs that do not prepare students in the important basic areas, especially in the hard sciences and mathematics," wrote UNC-Wilmington physics Prof. Moorad Alexanian in the Wilmington Star-News. As a result, students are "shackled with bogus degrees that lead nowhere," he said.
American colleges and universities offer more than 1,600 majors. The most popular undergraduate major, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, is business (16 percent).
What employers seek in new hires is someone who can think logically; speak and write clear, grammatical English; do simple math, and show up for work on time in appropriate business attire. It's hard to find that in a business major.
At the 24 colleges he studied, business students scored lowest on the College Learning Assessment, an essay test that assesses writing and reasoning skills, sociologist Richard Arum found. Business students also were last on the GMAT, the entry exam for MBA programs.
"Academic quality varies inversely with the presence of business education," said Prof. Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
The next most popular majors are history and the social sciences (11 percent); health sciences (8 percent) and education (6 percent).
Most ed courses are vacuous. But an education major used to be a good career choice, because this dreck degree is a prerequisite for teaching in public schools, where the pay's been good, job security high.
Now that taxpayers are no longer able to pay ever more for less, that's changing. Education majors score lowest on college entrance exams. They start out behind, and if they were judged on what they learn in college -- as soon they may be -- their job prospects would be dismal.
More students major in public administration, social work and psychology than in the physical sciences. Just 3 percent major in the biological and biomedical sciences.
An astounding 64 percent of business majors are women, as are 86 percent of education majors and 63 percent in the visual and performing arts.
In an earlier column on the college scam, I likened the college bubble to the housing bubble. There's an important difference. Home prices should bottom out at about 65 percent of what they were before the bubble burst. The floor will be much lower when the college bubble bursts.
Buoyed by federal money, the proportion of Americans with some post-secondary education rose from about 25 percent in 1975 to 55 percent today. But roughly 45 percent of college students drop out. Even with dumbed-down courses, a third require remedial instruction. At least 30 percent of students who go to college shouldn't, these statistics suggest.
The 1,600 majors should be cut by at least half. Garbage majors (ethnic and gender studies, for instance) must go.
The purpose of grades should be to indicate how well a student has mastered a subject, not to bolster his or her self-esteem.
I'll explore in a future column how we might get colleges to reform. In the meantime:
Don't borrow money to go to college if you don't plan a major where you can earn enough to repay your loans.
If you're not sure what you want to study, don't go to college until you are. You can party, network and look for a spouse for a lot less than what it costs to go to college these days.
Remember, college administrators are looking out for themselves, not you. Verify independently anything they tell you.
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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration.
© 2011, Jack Kelly